Photo: Victoria Azarenka
World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka has successfully defended her Australian Open title, rallying from a set down in Saturday night’s final to defeat China’s Li Na 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Li dropped her serve in the opening game of the match but settled down and controlled the first set, which ended with a double fault by the Belarusian.
Azarenka then responded by jumping out to an early lead in the second set and seemed to have complete control of the match when Li slipped and twisted her ankle when trailing 3-1.
The sixth-seeded Li, however, battled back after a medical timeout and tied the score at 4-4, although unforced errors proved her undoing as she dropped serve in the ninth game.
In the third set, after a 10-minute delay for Australian Day fireworks, Li had another spill and ended up banging her head on the hard-court surface.
Another medical timeout ensued to check if the Chinese player had suffered a concussion, but she was eventually cleared to resume the match.
In the end, however, Azarenka’s superior consistency was the difference in a contest of players with similar playing styles, with the Belarusian committing just 28 errors to Li’s 57 for the match.
Li came up short despite being the aggressor throughout most of the final and ending up with 36 winners, twice as many as Azarenka.
“I feel really happy right now. It’s been a long match. It’s been a tough match. Li Na was absolutely playing great tennis. Unfortunate things that happened to her, you know, but that’s sport,” Azarenka said in the post-match interview.
“I’m just happy that everything I went through, you know, I still could manage to give my best and really come out there and try to focus on my game and play tennis that I can produce,” she said, alluding to the criticism she endured for a questionable, lengthy injury time-out she took near the end of her semifinal match.
Azarenka initially said she took the time-out right before American Sloane Stephens was to serve to stay in Thursday’s match because she was “choking,” a common tennis term for extreme nervousness.
She later clarified and said she needed medical attention because she was having trouble breathing, although the Australian crowd was evidently skeptical and cheered for Li and against Azarenka throughout Saturday’s final.
With the win, Azarenka keeps her number one ranking, which would have been claimed by American Serena Williams if she had lost the final, while Li moves up one spot to No. 5.
In the final match of Saturday’s night session at Rod Laver Arena, American identical twins Bob and Mike Bryan won a record 13th Grand Slam doubles title by defeating the unseeded Dutch duo of Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling in the final.